See no evil . . .
A report issued yesterday by attorneys hired by the Lower Merion School District found that the collection of images stemmed not from an effort to spy on students but from “the district’s failure to implement policies, procedures and recordkeeping requirements and the overzealous and questionable use of technology by IS personnel without any apparent regard for privacy considerations or sufficient consultation with administrators.”
The report also criticized leaders and several members of the IS department as “not forthcoming with the Board, administrators and students about what TheftTrack could do and how they used it,” citing incidents demonstrating “an unwillingness … to let anyone outside of the IS Department know about TheftTrack’s capabilities.”
The report said the tracking system was intended to help recover stolen computers and the district used it successfully for that purpose. But it said the district also used the system for missing computers and for unknown purposes and left it activated for long periods in cases “in which there was no longer any possible legitimate reason” for capturing images.
The report faults administrators who had information about the program with not having appreciated the privacy concerns raised.
The most interesting part of the report confirms the allegation by student Blake Robbins and his family about alleged privacy violations over webcam images taken at home without their knowledge.
The report says Robbins turned in his laptop with a broken screen and was issued a loaner on Oct. 20, but school officials quickly moved to retrieve it due to outstanding insurance fees. So the tracking program was activated from Oct. 20 to Nov. 4 and captured 210 webcam photographs and 218 screen shots, the report said.
Although a technician confirmed on the first day of tracking that the laptop was “now currently online at home,” another official in the same department instructed him to keep the tracking on and later told investigators he thought he needed authorization to terminate it, the report said.
On Oct. 30, the report said, a technician saw a computer screen shot that “included an online chat that concerned him.” After consulting with a superior, he allowed school officials to look at the images.
Although the school principal said none of the images should be discussed with Robbins or his parents because they involved off-campus activities, Vice Principal Lindy Matsko decided about a week later it was “appropriate to discuss certain seemingly troubling images” with them, the report said.
In the civil lawsuit, Robbins said Matsko approached him and warned that school officials, based on webcam photos, suspected him of selling drugs. Robbins, 15, denies the drug allegation and said Matsko mistook Mike & Ike candies for illicit pills.
Robbins family attorney Mark Haltzman told reporters at the meeting that he and his clients were “thankful that we’ve been vindicated … about all the misuse going on,” but he added he was concerned that the full story had not yet been revealed.
The report notes Robbins “was not disciplined as a result of any images captured from his laptop.”